Who Won Apple-Samsung Patent Battle?

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One billion dollars — plus $49,393,540 in change — counts as real money in most people’s accounting. But when a San Jose, Calif.-jury found that some Samsung devices infringed on some Apple patents and handed down that award Friday, it didn’t do Apple as big of a favor as you might think.

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How can that be? Despite sweeping descriptions of Apple Inc. v. Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. et al. as the “tech trial of the century,” this case was like every other patent case in one way. It revolved around specifics: distinct features claimed in particular patents that allegedly showed up in somebody else’s product.

The jury for the United States District Court for the Northern District of California found that Samsung devices infringed on three Apple patents: 7,469,381 (how the contents of an iOS window bounce when you scroll to one end or another), 7,844,915 (distinguishing between one and two-finger touchscreen scrolling) and 7,864,163 (zooming in or out with gestures).

But while it found that every Samsung device cited by Apple infringed the so-called ’381 patent, some were clear of the latter two.

The case also covered four “design patents,” which cover a product’s looks but not its functions. Again, the jury only found across-the-board infringement of one patent: D604,305, which describes iOS’s grid lineup of app icons. That’s also the most questionable patent in the bunch, owing to the inevitability of that arrangement.

At least some Samsung devices were clear of D618,677 (how an iPhone’s glass runs from edge to edge) and D593,087 (an iPhone’s rounded corners), while no Samsung tablets infringed upon D504,889 (the iPad’s combination of screen and bezel).

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The verdict also found for Apple on a minority of its “trade dress” claims — basically, that Samsung products looked enough like Apple’s to confuse people.

In fewer words, these inconsistent results negate the idea that this ruling sinks Android, or even Samsung’s flavor of it.

Now consider the hardware involved: a lineup of models from last year or older, the only ones known to Apple when it filed this suit. (The Galaxy S II is the best-known among then, but it’s already been replaced by the Galaxy S III.) Apple, for its part, is only seeking an injunction on U.S. sales of eight phones on that list.

Expect Samsung to appeal this ruling/ You can make a pretty strong case that the jury rushed this judgment, disregarding fairly specific instructions from Judge Lucy Koh and “prior art” invalidating some Apple patents.

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Can’t Apple turn around and sue Samsung for its next round of devices, then go after other Android vendors as its worldwide campaign grinds on? Yes. But now that Apple has laid out such a sweeping case, its potential defendants have a better sense of their exposure and how to tweak their products.

Don’t get me wrong: Although Samsung can eat a billion-dollar verdict and possible future royalties, those aren’t expenses its executives should laugh off — not least if they really did think, “let’s Xerox parts of iOS,” after realizing Apple’s recently acquired taste for intellectual-property litigation. And revising hardware and software won’t come free either.

But the slow pace of patent litigation ensures that Apple’s biggest threat to Android lies not in the courtroom but in the market. Remember all of those copycat “iPod killer” media players? Apple’s engineers and designers, not its lawyers, helped herd them to near-extinction.

Credit: Rob Pegoraro/Discovery

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